The months-long protest against India’s new agribusiness laws turned violent today (Jan. 26) on one of the country’s major holidays.
Thousands of farmers fought through police and tear gas to enter Delhi’s historic Red Fort on Republic Day, which commemorates the signing of India’s constitution in 1950, following its independence from the UK.
Protesters were supposed to hold a tractor rally on specific routes in the capital, after the official Republic Day parade. Later, when a group of farmers diverted from the agreed-upon route, the Delhi police used lathis (sticks) and tear gas to try to control them.
Reacting to the police, hundreds of farmers also deviated from their original route. They breached security at the Red Fort, a historic Mughal-era site, and hoisted the yellow religious flag known as the Nishan Sahib, which is sacred to the Sikh community.
The protesting farmers were eventually removed from the fort complex, while another group is still protesting peacefully at Delhi’s Singhu border.
Many are referring to the incident as India’s own Capitol Hill moment, in a reference to the violence in Washington earlier this month.
Thousands of Indian farmers have been protesting at Delhi’s borders since Nov. 26, against new farm laws introduced by prime minister Narendra Modi government. The farmers criticize the reforms for handing an advantage to big corporates such as Reliance.
The city is on partial lockdown. As precautionary measures, the entry and exit gates of several metro stations were temporarily closed. Internet and telecom services have also been suspended in some parts of Delhi and the national capital region (NCR) for 12 hours.
Meanwhile, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an amalgam of over 30 unions leading the protest, has distanced itself from the violence: “We dissociate ourselves from all such elements that have violated our discipline. We appeal strongly to everyone to stick to the route and norms of the Parade, and not indulge in any violent action or anything that taints national symbols and dignity. We appeal to everyone to desist from any such acts.”